The history of the Sakha alphabet, like the development of many other spheres of the lives of the Sakha people, was always influenced by the peculiarities of relationships which existed between the local (Sakha) population and central (Moscow) government. Thus the Sakha alphabet has a deep political imprint which becomes obvious when one looks back at major stages in its development.
The Sakha (Yakut) language has a relatively young writing system. The first Sakha ideographic alphabet was developed by Otto Boethlingk in 1851. Before this, Sakhas in some regions also used a pictographic script on various wooden and bone materials (Ivan Barashkov, and Aleksey Okladnikov. Drevn'yaya pis'mennost' yakutov. (Yakutsk, Gos-oe izd-vo YaASSR, 1942), p. 35). The 1851 ideographic alphabet used Cyrillic characters with some additional signs for particular Sakha sounds. Since most of the Sakha population was illiterate at that time, this alphabet was only used in official papers, missionary books and some periodicals, before the revolution, by Russian and European travellers, academics and exiles who could speak Sakha, as well as by a few native speakers.
In 1913 Semyon Novgorodov, the first native Sakha linguist, educated in Leningrad University, introduced a new alphabet for Sakha based on Latin script. This alphabet became the first writing system which was widespread among mass population: the first Sakha ABC-books were based on this alphabet, children and illiterate adults were taught using it, media and works of literature were also released using this alphabet.
With the flourishing of the Soviet socialist ideas, when the Russian language acquired a big political and cultural significance throughout the Soviet Union, however, the Latin-based alphabet became “out of date”. As a result, in 1939 it was replaced by the Russian Cyrillic alphabet in spite of the fact that only 18 out of 32 letters of the Russian alphabet phonetically fully correspond to the Sakha sounds (Aleksey Ivanov- Künde. Kyyhar tungat syrdyga: Uus-uran aiymn'ylar, tyldjyt, ystatyialar, bibliografia. (Yakutsk, Bichik, 2000), p. 273). And though a number of distinguished Sakha intellectuals, including writers, poets, and social workers, tried to resist this reform of the alphabet, to which the majority of the Sakha population was already accustomed, this was a political, rather than linguistic, issue which also penetrated the whole spiritual life of the Sakha society.
Due to these changes, the Russian Cyrillic alphabet as a base for the writing systems of many national languages within the former Soviet Union and Russia was - and still is - associated with the colonial policy of Russian tsarism and the Soviet regime. The Latin script, on the contrary, was always perceived as international (Platon Sleptsov. Yakutskii literaturnyi yazyk. Istoki, stanovlenie norm. (Novosibirsk, Nauka, 1986), pp. 114-115). Nowadays, with the sheer increase of the Sakha national self-consciousness, there are attempts, though small-scale, among Sakha to return to the old Latin-based script as a form of denial of everything which was imposed by the Russian government on the Sakha society. People seem dissatisfied with the way the Sakha sounds are represented by Cyrillic characters which do not reflect their original articulatory and acoustic qualities.
The Institute of Languages and Cultures of the Peoples of Northeast Russia of North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk is now engaged in a research project on the new reformation of the Sakha alphabet (Nina Keremyasova, Redaktsia novostey SFVU. Doktor nauk Gavril Filippov: My khotim sozdat' novyi yakutskii alfavit. (Yakutsk, Redaktsia novostey SFVU, 2012). http://old.s-vfu.ru/news/0/28718/, accessed 2012-02-20). The main goal of the project is to improve the current alphabet so that it delivers the Sakha sounds more accurately. The researchers are particularly concerned about the representation of long vowels and diphthongs which do not exist in Russian and therefore have always been a difficult issue for the Sakha linguists, translators and writers. Concerning language policy in the Sakha Republic today, there is a strong resistance to the Russian language in many spheres of public life: media, literature, research and academic works, and art. Thus more local TV programmes and shows are now produced and presented in Sakha, departure information in airports and bus stations in Yakutsk (the capital of the Sakha Republic) is now announced in Sakha along with Russian, and even the Republic's President is no longer named “President” but “Il Darkhan” which literally means “the honourable head of the state”. This resistance of the Sakha language to Russian also becomes obvious when people try to use as few loan words from Russian as possible: they tend to replace them with the synonymous Sakha terms which, however, belong to a different language style (e.g. archaic, bookish), or with the same-style Sakha words which have slightly different meanings.
The history of the Sakha alphabet as well as the Sakha language demonstrates their direct dependence on the political and social changes in the society. This allows the presumption that their future fortunes will also be subject to the region-state relations. The present-day instability of the Sakha writing system also shows that it is still in the process of its development. And, although any big changes in the Sakha alphabet, such as its switch to the Latin script, are not expected, its norms and rules will probably be further revised and approved.